NFC West: 2012 Week 7 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Packers 30, Rams 20

October, 21, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 30-20 defeat to the Green Bay Packers at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 7:

What it means: The Rams fell to 3-4 with their second consecutive defeat. The tough stretch could continue thanks to the schedule. St. Louis faces New England in London, then San Francisco on the road following a bye. Three of the Rams' four remaining division games are on the road. No one said Jeff Fisher's first season would be easy.

What I liked: The Rams' defense set the tone early by stuffing a Packers run and sacking Aaron Rodgers while forcing a three-and-out on Green Bay's first possession. Rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers collected the first sack of his career.

The offense established a ground game right away, helping St. Louis win time of possession by a wide margin in the first half. The pass protection for Sam Bradford was better than anticipated for a team with third-stringers at left tackle and left guard.

The Rams put together a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, sparked by rookie Chris Givens' 56-yard catch-and-run. Steven Jackson played a key role on the drive, converting on third-and-1 before scoring on a 6-yarder up the middle.

What I didn't like: Green Bay seized the underdog's initiative away from St. Louis by succeeding with an onside kick following a first-quarter touchdown. That was the type of play St. Louis has sought to execute as a means toward manufacturing points. Watching the Packers accomplish that feat had to make the Rams' coaches grimace.

The Rams continued to squander chances for scoring touchdowns. They failed on fourth-and-2 from the Packers' 14-yard line. Bradford couldn't handle a shotgun snap on a third-and-8 play from the Green Bay 25, leading Bradford to scramble for no gain.

It's easy to read too much into the situation based on what we know about the state of the Rams' offensive line. However, I thought there were times when Bradford appeared to rush throws as if he did not trust his protection, even when he wasn't about to get hit. That seemed to be a possibility on the interception Bradford threw on a deep pass up the left sideline from near the Rams' goal line.

Gutsy call: The Rams failed to convert a fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 15 while trailing 10-3. The move was understandable given that the Rams had to figure field goals weren't going to be enough. But getting a first down in that situation wouldn't have guaranteed a touchdown later on the drive. The Rams' defense was playing well overall and the game was still young. Before this game, the Rams had converted twice on eight drop backs when needing 2 yards for a first down on third/fourth downs.

Givens' explosiveness: Givens has a reception of 50-plus yards in four consecutive games. Willie Gault had been the last player to do that in three consecutive games. He did it during the 1983 season. The Rams were checking to see which player, if any, had done it four games in a row. Givens is the Rams' most explosive player.

Respecting Rodgers: When the Rams allowed Rodgers to connect on his second scoring pass, they had allowed four TD throws in 6.5 quarters after allowing two of them in the first 20.5 quarters of the season. Rodgers was phenomenal in this game. He completed 20 of his first 22 passes for 232 yards and two scores. His third scoring pass was memorable. Rodgers rolled left and threw across his body to Randall Cobb for a 39-yard score.

Running stats: The Rams carried 16 times for 93 yards in the first half. They carried six times for 15 yards in the second half. The disparity arose because the Packers controlled the ball after halftime. Green Bay had scoring drives spanning 6:56, 4:25 and 5:44 in the second half.

Infirmary report: The Rams lost defensive end Eugene Sims to a knee injury in the first half. Sims was part of the nickel defensive line and overall defensive line rotation. Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Trumaine Johnson were shaken up. Bradley did not miss any playing time. Receiver Brian Quick landed hard on his left hip while falling out of bounds on a pass near the end zone late in the game.

What's next: The Rams face the New England Patriots in London.

Wrap-up: Vikings 21, Cardinals 14

October, 21, 2012

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 21-14 loss at Minnesota in Week 7:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 4-3 with their third consecutive defeat. They've got San Francisco, Green Bay (road) and Atlanta (road) on the schedule from here. The team will need better play from quarterback John Skelton to avoid dropping to 4-6. It's fair to wonder whether the Cardinals will see rookie Ryan Lindley at quarterback at some point over the next few weeks, either through injury or Skelton's poor performance. (Update: Skelton finished strong, completing 11 of 14 passes with a touchdown in the fourth quarter).

What I liked: The Cardinals stuck with the running game early and got better production. LaRod Stephens-Howling tied the game at 7-7 with the team's first rushing touchdown since Week 2 and third of the season.

Paris Lenon's interception set up the scoring drive. Sam Acho made a diving interception right before halftime. The Cardinals' ground game and defense put the team in scoring position frequently enough to keep the game competitive -- if only the offense could capitalize.

Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste fared far better than expected in pass protection against Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' run defense struggled from the beginning. Adrian Peterson popped a 28-yard run before his 13-yard touchdown run gave the Viking a 7-0 lead. Peterson topped 100 yards rushing. But with Jay Feely missing a field goal try right before halftime and Skelton throwing a pick-six in the third quarter, the Cardinals fell behind and the game slipped away.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the San Francisco 49ers on "Monday Night Football" in Week 8.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 13, Seahawks 6

October, 18, 2012
Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 13-6 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night at Candlestick Park:

What it means: The 49ers moved to 5-2 and secured sole possession of first place with a hard-fought victory over the Seahawks (4-3). Quarterback Alex Smith struggled, but the victory was what mattered the most. Seattle has now completed its NFC West road schedule with an 0-3 record in those games. The Seahawks scored 35 points in those three road games against Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco. Coach Pete Carroll has now gone 1-7 in his past eight games against current NFC West head coaches.

What I liked: Both teams ran the ball better than expected despite facing run defenses that have been extremely stout since last season. The 49ers' Frank Gore and the Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch each topped 100 yards rushing.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw down the field without fear and put his receivers/tight ends in position to make big plays (they did not make nearly enough of them). Seattle’s offensive line rose to the occasion, clearing holes in the running game while giving Wilson enough time. The 49ers' offensive line answered by springing Gore for big gains repeatedly. Niners return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. helped swing field position in the 49ers’ favor multiple times.

What I didn’t like: Both teams seemed a little too content settling for field goal tries. Seattle’s decision to run Leon Washington on third-and-3 comes to mind. Washington didn’t get the first down. Seattle wound up missing a long field goal try. The 49ers settled for a second-half field goal after running a quarterback draw on third down.

The Seahawks’ Evan Moore, Robert Turbin and Golden Tate missed chances to make receptions for big gains. Tate dropped an easy pass on third-and-short to force a punt after Seattle moved into 49ers territory on its first drive of the second half. Turbin and Moore dropped downfield throws.

The 49ers got Gore running early, but he had only six carries in the first half and wasn’t a big enough part of the plan, it seemed. It’s possible the Seahawks forced the 49ers away from Gore, something New England’s Bill Belichick said Seattle did through its scheme and personnel. Still, Gore was running well enough to command additional carries.

Both teams conceded first downs with penalties in short-yardage situations. Seattle’s Brandon Mebane jumped across the line early on one of them. The 49ers’ Ray McDonald lined up over the center illegally on a Seattle punt.

The interception 49ers quarterback Alex Smith threw near the goal line looked like it would have been picked off by a deeper defender if the Seahawks' Brandon Browner hadn't intercepted it first. Smith appeared tentative and seemed to continue a regression that began with his three-interception game a week earlier.

Chop-block or not: The Seahawks completed a fourth-down pass for an apparent first down while trying to rally with 43 seconds left. Officials wiped out the play, calling a chop-block penalty against Seahawks guard Paul McQuistan. I wondered after watching replays if McQuistan struck the 49ers' Aldon Smith in the thigh area or lower. It didn't matter in the end, however, as officials determined Seattle had not gained a first down.

Losing composure: 49ers safety Dashon Goldson drew a 15-yard penalty for taking an extra shot at Lynch during a pileup. The hit appeared to be retaliatory in nature. Lynch had run over Goldson and fallen on him a few plays earlier. The penalty helped Seattle move into position for a 52-yard field goal on its opening drive -- a drive that began at the Seattle 4-yard line.

Harbaugh’s non-challenge: Officials denied 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh’s attempt at challenging a potential fumble by Seattle deep in Seahawks territory. It looked like Seattle recovered the ball anyway. Harbaugh was incensed and could be heard berating an official.

Drop watch: Seattle suffered from at least four dropped passes. Tate had two of them. The 49ers’ Randy Moss dropped a ball with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman hanging on him. Officials seemingly could have thrown a flag on that play. Lynch dropped a third-down throw with Seattle deep in its own territory and trailing 10-6 with 10:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Missed tackles: Sherman, Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright missed 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree along the sideline, allowing Crabtree to escape for a 16-yard gain. The 49ers had trouble taking down Lynch, but every team does. He might be the toughest back to tackle in the NFL.

Injury watch: The Seahawks lost receiver Doug Baldwin to an ankle injury. They lost backup linebacker Malcolm Smith to a concussion. Defensive tackle Jason Jones limped off in the second half after a teammate inadvertently fell on the back of his leg.

What’s next: The Seahawks face the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Week 8. The 49ers face the Arizona Cardinals on “Monday Night Football” at University of Phoenix Stadium.